Thursday, April 23, 2015

Saint Augustine: Porches, Pirates and More

More photos from our trip to Florida. St. Augustine is filled with history--like these "gates to the city", which were built from coquina, a strong sedimentary material made naturally by the oceans of shells and sand into a kind of cement. The city was surrounds by a wall at one time, and to enter you had to go through these gates, which were built in 1808 during the last major repair work on the wall. The wall was actually begun in 1704. 

Color abounds in St. Augustine, and many houses add to the color riot with paints in all shades.

Ah, Spanish moss! I know it's a parasite, I know it's probably not good for the trees, but you truly know you're in the south when you begin seeing it in the trees. Check out the porch on this house.


I particularly liked the deep porches evident on most of the older homes. Many had both upstairs and downstairs porches, a reminder of the old house I grew up in which had a rear upstairs porch.

Porches, porches, porches.

Want to move? This old property is for sale but it looks like a lot of work would be needed!

Ponce de Leon came to Florida looking for the Fountain of Youth. He was certain it was here because the natives had such youthful-looking skin. This bird apparently has little regard for the importance of the man portrayed by this sculpture--poor Ponce!

Henry Flagler, credited with seeing the potential of the Florida climate and location, is credited with bringing growth to the region with his railroad, hotels and other other enterprises. He built the Memorial Presbyterian Church as a memorial to his daughter who died when a young woman.

The church boasts a Tiffany rose window.

Evidence of Spanish influence is everywhere, like in this intricate tilework and windows on one building.

This building is called The Slave Market--it was once used for slave auctions. Although this claim has been contested, recently a historian found documented evidence that slaves were indeed sold here. Today it is a marketplace for artisans.
 Pirates! Well tour guides, anyway, but they certainly add atmosphere to a city that has known its share of the breed in its day.

I have a few more photos to share, I believe, but enough for today. 

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Love, Murder and Mystery: Talking about Appalachian Ballads

Soon after returning from Florida I was presenting a program for West Virginia University on the Appalachian ballads. Ballads as you probably know are really storytelling in song, so it's easy to see why I was attracted to them. I had heard ballads re-done in the 60's and 70's during the "folk revival," by people like Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Joan Baez and others but it didn't click with me then that these were actually very old songs with a very different sound than what the rock musicians gave them.

So in 2000 when I actually heard a field recording of a traditional ballad singer, I was blown away by the simplicity of his style and the subject matter of the songs. These were stories! A man who leaves his love to go to war, and she dresses like a man and goes out to the battlefields to find him, a sinking ship and a crew driven to cannibalism in their lifeboat, a girl who commit suicide because her love has left her, jealousy and murder between two sisters, someone boiled in lead, pregnant girls murdered by the word! It was like a heavy dose of TV news--but beautifully phrased and with haunting melodies.

For the past 15 years I have been studying the ballads that traveled from Britain to the Appalachians, along with some homegrown ballads and some that were never collected here by those great songcatchers of the early 20th century.

with Jason Burns, who organized the program
My repertoire has grown slowly and yet I had plenty to fill two hours of presentation at WVU, and with some to spare. It's a rare pleasure for me to talk about ballads and to sing them for those who appreciate this old music. I sing in the traditional style, unaccompanied by any instrumentation. Singing this way allows me to set the pace I want, to stress certain notes and so the timing is not what is needed when an instrument is playing along. Just as in speaking we have no set rhythm but go faster or slower, louder or softer, pause, etc to suit whatever we are saying, so it is with traditional ballad singing.

One of the high points of the WVU program was when I asked the audience if anyone sang ballads. A young man raised his hand and said he knew a version of The Two Sisters. I persuaded him to come onstage and share it with us. What delight to find there are young people into these old songs! Two young women in the audience also sing ballads, more encouragement that the old songs will not soon die out.

Click on the orange arrow to hear me singing Pretty Saro, the first ballad I learned, and still my favorite.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Quick Trip to Florida

Who drives all the way to Florida to spend only a couple days there? We do.

Our youngest son lives in Miami, and we haven't seen him in a year and a half. Thank goodness for cell phones and social media that allow us to stay in touch so easily! When his brothers were in the military our phone bills were often in the hundreds of dollars, but today it's a different world. Still there is nothing like face to face, hugging and talking and just being together.

Since Tommy recently changed jobs he has no leave time yet. He had hoped to come home this spring but a new opportunity was too good to pass up. So we decided to make a quick weekend trip down to see him. It wasn't as bad as it might seem--about 700 miles one way, so it was a 12-hour drive, but we left early and hit little traffic until we got to Jacksonville. Then we took the A1A along the coast to St. Augustine, where we were to meet up with our son.

 It was fantastic--we watched the sunrise over the beach,

toured the city on one of those hop-on-hop-off tours,

took the ghost tour (my camera AND phone were both dead by then, sadly), ate out at all kinds of places,

My baby boy :)

sampled some muscadine wine,

heard live music, rode a historic carousel,

and just had a blast. And we talked and talked and talked. It was hard to have to say goodbye.

Homeward bound finally by noon on Sunday we learned what traffic could be! We opted to leave the interstate after miles of stop and go, bumper to bumper driving and took a two-lane that was straight and virtually free of traffic. I know this cut miles and time from the drive, but even better, it was interesting and an area of South Carolina we hadn't seen before.

We stayed the night in Charlotte, NC. The next morning we were on the road again but stopping at thrift shops all along that way. The van was full of finds by the time we got home!

I expect we may make more of these short visits to Florida since it's easier for us to get away than it is for our son, and we like to travel anyway. Next time, though, I hope we can allow more time. Florida is one of our country's jewels and there is much to see there and much history to explore.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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